Todd Hagenbuch: A conversation we need to have

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We have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world. We also spend less of our income on food than anyone else in the world. As discussion of the 2007 Farm Bill moves forward, I hear grumblings about "farm subsidies." Subsidies, according to American Heritage Dictionary, are "financial assistance given by one person or government to another." I ask you though, who is subsidizing whom?

We're seeing the effects of high gas prices almost everywhere. The prices for goods and services are increasing as producers of products pass along the costs to the consumers. Unfortunately for those of us who farm and ranch, we cannot pass along our costs to the next guy. Because we are price takers, not price makers, we cannot add our costs together and ask for a price that covers our bottom line. When the costs of inputs rise, the money simply comes out of our pocketbook, whether or not we can afford it.

Donn Teske of the Kansas Farmers Union recently testified before the U.S. House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming about this issue. He told the representatives that farmers are the only entity that buy retail and sell wholesale. How right he is.

This brings me back to subsidies. American farmers and ranchers are being asked more and more to sacrifice their bottom line as input costs rise dramatically (land, fuel, equipment, etc.) and commodity prices, while better than in the past, continue to lag behind. As our yearly income continues to shrink, the income of those in most other business sectors continues to rise. Because the cost of food remains so inexpensive, Americans have a disproportionate amount of disposable income when compared to others around the globe. Is it at the expense of our agricultural producers?

The time is coming when the citizens of our country are going to have to seriously consider what we value. Do we want to have safe, healthy food that is produced in our own country, or are we comfortable importing all of it? Do we want to keep driving our cars, or should the fuel they consume be used to produce food? Is it a matter of national security to be able to produce our own food, or is it more important to live a lifestyle to which we've become accustomed?

As the Farm Bill moves forward, and as input costs continue to rise, we need to have this conversation. I'm not sure how much longer rural American farmers and ranchers can continue to subsidize the country's consumptive habits.

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